To The Editor:
In the film “Dr. Zhivago,” the lawyer Komarovski (the name suggests mosquito in Russian) bellows from the foot of the frozen stairs, where the doctor/poet had flung him: “We’re all made of the same clay, you know.” What sticks in the craw of the oh-so-tolerant friend of Bolsheviks and Czarists, Reds and Whites, victims and executioners, is the elevation — in both senses of the word — of the man looking down on him from the landing.
If statues could warn and enlighten as in the ancient world, what would General Lee have to say, looking down from his tottering pedestals? One thing is certain, he would be saddened to see that “the softening influence of Christianity” — which he hoped would heal the wounds of Civil War — is nowhere in evidence. Unlike the bogeyman slaver denounced by the Landrieus and McCauliffes and the mobs, the real General Lee regarded slavery as a bane — corrupting master more than slave.
Do the iconoclasts know that Lee, unlike Grant, freed his slaves before the Emancipation Proclamation? Even before the war, Lee had lamented slavery as “a moral and political evil that a more enlightened time would abhor and abolish.” It is true that he was a “gradualist” who trusted, perhaps overmuch, on Providence to eradicate the evil of human bondage; those who suffered under it owe no apologies for lacking such patience. But the one great good resulting from that fratricidal conflict, in Lee’s view, was its abolition. “I am rejoiced,” he wrote after surrendering to Grant (who, by the way, still held slaves in Missouri) that slavery is abolished.”
Until a decade or so ago, Robert E. Lee was universally admired as a brilliant tactician, and a just warrior who, unlike Sherman and Sheridan, spared civilians wherever possible, and attempted to prove that war and hell need not be synonymous. He was admired also, as a sincere Christian worthy of emulation by boys on either side of the Mason-Dixon line. And, according to Alan Keyes, the brilliant black polemicist and erstwhile presidential candidate, admiration of such a character needn’t divide along racial lines.
Alan’s father, a career Army officer and great reader of history, christened his son Alan Lee Keyes in honor of that “inimitable commander of the Army of the Confederacy.” Was the elder Keyes, then, an Uncle Tom, a self-hating black? The son doesn’t run the rails of this binary track — he’s far too brainy for that. “No one,” he says, was ever more “adamantly opposed to slavery.” The son, like the father, is not howling for the removal of Lee’s statues. Like Martin Luther King, he looks at the content of character and finds much to admire. Shouldn’t we all do the same?
Rather than waving placards, spitting obscenities, and kicking at a fallen statue, it might do the demonstrators more rational good to actually read a life of Lee. Such a study might diminish the impulse to pull down to Earth what is above you. It might also stimulate resistance to the demagoguery of politicians who never let a crisis go unused.